The health effects of poor sleep have been well-established: People who do not sleep well have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, increased risk of diabetes and even weaker immune systems. Sleep also appears to have a huge impact on mood. In fact, a recent study has found that there is a significant link between poor sleep and repetitive negative thinking. If you are trying to have more positive thoughts, a decent night of slumber may be just what the doctor ordered.
An Epidemic of Exhaustion
Modern life has brought us more comfortable mattresses and a variety of ways to encourage sleeping soundly and safely at night. Unlike our ancestors, we are not woken by predators, pests and other dangers. Despite this, people have lower sleep quality than ever before. In fact, experts have called our collective sleep deprivation an epidemic and even a catastrophe.
What is keeping us from the high quality sleep that we need? Experts blame a variety of factors. First, technology has blurred the lines between our professional and personal lives. For the first time in human history, we are able to work even from our own beds, answering emails and preparing presentations on handheld devices. In addition, our world is filled with blue light from televisions, computers, smartphones and other gadgets. This light pollution can prevent the production of melatonin, a hormone crucial to falling and staying asleep.
There are other societal factors at play as well, including higher stress levels and longer to-do lists. The result is that sleep deprivation, defined as consistently getting less than seven hours of quality sleep every night, affects more people than ever before. According to new research on sleep and negative thinking, this may be affecting not just our physical health but our mental well-being as well.
Links Between Sleep and Mood
To examine a possible link between poor sleep and negative thinking, researchers looked at a group of people who scored high on the “Perseverative Thinking Questionnaire,” a tool that measures repetitive and intrusive negative thoughts. They collected information about these people’s sleeping habits. Participants then were shown a variety of images while their eye movements were recorded. At the end of the study, there was a clear link between sleep and negative thinking. People whose eyes lingered longer on negative images than positive ones reported disordered sleep habits, low sleep quality and fewer hours spent sleeping.
According to the study professor, Meredith Coles, this shows an interesting link between sleep and negative thinking. “While other people may be able to receive negative information and move on, the participants had trouble ignoring it,” she notes. Sleep quality appears to be important in one’s ability to follow the common advice to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.”
A Self-Perpetuating Cycle
There have been prior links between sleep and mental health. Researchers have found that almost every kind of mental illness includes some sort of disordered sleep. In addition, people with depression are ten times more likely to have a sleep disorder, while those with anxiety are seventeen times as likely. Sleep appears to cause poor mental health, while mental health issues appear to cause increasingly disordered sleep. The result, for many unfortunate people, is a negative cycle that is difficult to break.
However, there is also good news for people who struggle with disordered sleep and negative thinking. There are several natural ways that people can improve their sleep quality and duration, giving them the better mood and emotional strength needed to break the cycle and get back on the path to good health.
Breaking the Cycle of Poor Sleep and Negative Thoughts
There are several ways to encourage better sleep, even for people with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues that interfere with sleep. Consider the following lifestyle changes:
- Meditate and use other calming techniques before going to bed.
- Maintain good sleep hygiene, avoiding any activities except sleep and sex in the bedroom.
- Get plenty of exercise during the day, except in the hours immediately before bedtime.
- Prioritize your life so you complete tasks that are causing you stress. This will give you less to worry about as you are trying to fall asleep.
- Turn off or dim lights an hour before you intend to go to bed, include the television and your smartphone.
- Plan to get more sleep than you need. This way, you will still get an adequate amount even if falling asleep takes a while. Most people need 7-9 hours a night.
- Consider taking a melatonin supplement before bed. This hormone encourages your body to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Sleep is crucial to our health and well-being in both the physical and mental health aspect. While it can be difficult to maintain a well-regulated sleep cycle, research on sleep and negative thinking suggest that this is an important way to improve your mood. Talk to your doctor if you are struggling with sleep, mental health or a combination of the two. It is essential to break the cycle keeping you from getting the rest and mental lift you need.